A long journey to the base of the mountains in Utah is certainly symbolic of the journey the Arizona Western Men’s Soccer Program has taken since the program’s inception in 1996.
With the help of two penalty kicks, a stellar second half goal, excellent defense, and a few great saves, Arizona Western is District Champions for the first time.
The 18th ranked Arizona Western Matadors knocked off the previously unbeaten and third ranked Salt Lake City Bruins 3-1 Friday afternoon at the Zions Bank Stadium.
It was a hard fought game, fitting the hard fought journey for the Matadors under their leader, Head Coach Kenny Dale, in his fifteenth season.
The Matadors had an early corner four minutes in that Michele Signorelli headed to the far post but was shunned by Luke Merrill to help his keeper preserve the level score.
Seven minutes later, the Matadors had another build up that drew a loss cross into the box for Ridwane Boukraa. Boukraa was fouled, judged by the official, as he dove forward creating a penalty kick for Arizona Western
Signorelli laced the chance into the back of the net, giving the Matadors a lead over the undefeated Bruins.
The very physical first half remained 1-0 in favor of Arizona Western with a total of six yellow cards.
The Matadors came back in the second half just as solid defensively, limiting the Bruins chances despite Salt Lake controlling possession.
But AWC created chances off the counter attack as Boukraa got into the box in the 63rd minute and was tripped from behind for another penalty kick. Signorelli scored again extending the lead 2-0.
The game continued to be physical with 11 yellow cards issued in all. Boukraa picked up one before the half and would get his second in the 71st minute, forcing AWC to play a man down.
The Matadors locked in defensively despite the disadvantage before creating a counter attack just seven minutes after the booking.
Signorelli and Erik Ibarra played the ball to Jesus Chillon who carved out a window at the top of the box, curling a ball past the keeper Isaac Roy to extend the lead to 3-0.
Salt Lake upped the attack creating a couple of opportunities before Ryen Jiba volleyed a cross past the Matador Keeper in the 81st minute.
But that would be all that Salt Lake would get as Duro Dragicevic was stellar in goal again, tallying seven saves.
The Bruins had a chance early to equalize the game at one but Dragicevic punched a high bounce away.
Most of Dragicevic’s work came in the second half as the Bruins tallied 10 shots, five on goal, including their lone score.
But AWC’s defense held the Region 18 Player of the Year, Jiba to just a couple of chances and pressured other all-conference selections in Sam Owusu and Daniel Mulholland.
Arizona Western had a second player disqualified for a second yellow in the final minute when Jesus Sanchez was sent off, forcing the Matadors to hold strong with just nine players.
It’s an incredible finish for the Matadors who earn the first District Championship in program history punching their ticket to Tyler, Texas for the NJCAA National Tournament beginning on November 18th.